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Kirby: Scrutiny of LDS Church history serves up surprises

Published October 6, 2013 10:31 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

During my LDS mission, I got into a large disagreement with my companion Elder Lekker over an unsettling bit of church history.

Lekker loved church history. The wall on his side of the room was covered with pictures of old temples, early prophets and Arnold Friberg prints, etc. Above his desk hung a popular portrait of Joseph Smith.

One day I pointed out that Joseph Smith had a big nose. He does (or did). As irrelevant and irreverent as this observation was, it was nevertheless true. Being a prophet doesn't preclude a guy from having a serious beak on him.

This challenge to Lekker's air-brushed version of church history caused him to fly into a rage. The spirit of contention in our companionship reached all the way to the mission president. Within 24 hours I didn't have to look at Lekker or his pictures ever again.

Polygamy, Mountain Meadows, "Journal of Discourses," Egyptian funeral rites — there are lots of unsettling things about LDS Church history, including some that probably haven't even come to light yet.

Making a church is like making a hamburger. It's all so yummy when presented in a bun on a plate — and something altogether different when you consider the back story involves bashing one of God's simplest creatures in the head with a hammer.

The religious beliefs of most people are based as much or more on what we don't know than what we think we do. It's why no religion really likes to examine the less-flattering elements of its past.

This is particularly tough for Mormons because we're latecomers to the business of church making. Because the LDS Church is so young, it's better documented than other faiths and, thanks to technology, it's history is also more easily accessible.

Which begs the question: Would Christ have survived the information age? If familiarity breeds contempt, how Christian would you be if Christ's ministry was happening right now?

Reporter: "Yeah, Bob. We're in Liberty Park where a man calling himself King of the Jews is going on and on about the meek. The police are …"

Would you be the sort of Christian you are today? There's a good chance you wouldn't. Most of the people who saw Jesus during his life didn't think all that much of him or his followers. A good number of them later howled for his blood. It's what happens when you're actually there for the back story.

Two-thousand years of determined spin-doctoring makes for a mighty convenient God. You don't have to wrestle with the nefarious backroom deals that occur everywhere humans try to organize. They've long been weeded out by the well-intentioned and controlling.

What if you knew that the Savior had not only been married but also divorced? Suppose there came to light serious documentation that he had spent all those missing years in an asylum?

Would you still be Christian? Probably. You'd do the same things that everyone else does when confronted with an inconvenient truth: Deny even the possibility that things aren't exactly the way you need them to be.

What if the Buddha wasn't a benevolent chubby figure but rather a severely depressed and anorexic one? What if you had it on good authority that he beat his wife?

Muslims? Not even. We saw what happened when a Danish newspaper cartoonist drew a caricature of Muhammad. Examining his past could well be worth your life.

In the end we protect ourselves by believing only the truth we can handle and shouting "heresy" at anything we can't. That's not faith or God. That's ego.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.




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